I was in HCMC this weekend, just went for 3D/2N for some righteous Vietnamese food. I like pho but the thing I crave for the most is bahn mi – I ate it three (3) times during my trip, at 3 different stalls and bakeries! The first one was the best – the bread was crusty, soft, yet fulfilling at the same time. Some places have an overly soft baguette which I don’t personally like – I prefer the bread to have a bit of bite to it. I also had pho, com ga (chicken rice) and Vietnamese coffee! There was an unusual dish consisting of pork blood porridge with random pig organs on the side but I didn’t include it here coz it’s a mukbang – stay tuned, I’m editing it now.
Banh cuon is a term used to describe rice flour rolls in Vietnam. I was wondering along the streets of Hanoi when I decided to pop into a street stall to try one of their offering. I don’t quite remember where this was as I was just walking along and taking in the culture but it was really good.
The Northern part of Vietnam (including Hanoi) has a slightly different varient of Banh cuon. It’s a “rolled cake” which contains pork, shrimp herbs and rice vermicelli wrapped in rice paper.
You can see them prepare it fresh right in front of you!
This version also has a healthy sprinkling of pork floss on top and it’s served with a dipping sauce which has lime, sugar and fish sauce called Nuoc cham.
It costs VND 15,000 for a plate (about RM 2.40) for a plate of four rolls and unsweetened iced tea is on the house.
I love the yin and yang concept of Vietnamese cuisine – they always have raw vegetables and herbs to complement the dish.
The dipping sauce is something awesome too. I ate it without the dipping sauce first but with the nuoc cham it makes it all the more better. Street food FTW in Vietnam!
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is one of the places you must go to when you’re in Hanoi, Vietnam. The show costs VND 60,000 (about RM 10) and it lasts about 45 minutes but it’s well worth it. It might sound like a commercialized show to catch and it probably is, but it also gives you a dose of culture.
Water puppet performances started back in the days when Hanoi had periodic floods during the monsoon season. The preamble to the show states that the farmers started this as entertainment during those times and thus, most of the themes reflect life as peasants – agriculture, fishing, and the odd folk tales thrown in.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre show can be pretty packed so I bought my tickets a day earlier so I can get good seats. Photos and videos are allowed – they use an honor system where you declare and pay to use your camera but no one bothered (which won’t be surprising considering most are backpackers) so I didn’t either.
I also met this solo traveller from Australia who told me she managed to get a room for USD 7 not far from the theatre. It comes with toothpaste and soap to boot, something I paid triple for but I can’t remember the name of the hotel for the life of me.
Anyway, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre starts with a classic orchestra playing traditional instruments at the side. These people also double as the narrator and singers during the show.
The puppets that they use ranges from huge two foot boats to small balls but it was so well choreographed that you’ll be surprised that it can be done from behind a bamboo veil.
Funny fishing puppetry
Harvest Festival. A story about a student returning after graduation with themes of filial gratitude.
Legend of the Restored Sword is a myth about King Le Loi who triumphed over the Ming invaders with a magic sword and him returning it back to a giant golden turtle.
Master of Puppets!
They manipulate the puppets from behind and this is their encore!
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is pretty interesting – you can see most of the footage here but it’s well worth a visit for the ambiance.
Bia Hoi is a unique cultural experience in Vietnam that I thoroughly enjoyed. Fresh draft beer is delivered daily to bia hois and stored in a HUGE container. It’s served by the glass and each glass only costs VND 6,000 (RM 0.90). It’s icy cold and has a low alcohol content (reported to be around 3%), which makes it perfect for prolonged drinking sessions.
I was lucky to find an real bia hoi where all the locals in the Old Quarter go to just a street down from the place I was staying at. The best thing about the place is that they’re not used to foreigners – I got a lot of puzzled looks when I sat down and people started asking me where I was from.
One other interesting aspect is that office workers would drop by during lunch and grab a quick glass of beer before departing again. I think this has something to do with the American occupation and the cultural vestiges left after that but I’m no sociologist so take this with a pinch of salt.
Anyway, they were very surprised at the amount of beer that I can drink and on the second visit on my first day, the owner sat down with me and bought me a beer. This is a friendship that would last throughout the trip, sometimes I just sat down and he waved my money away. He was interested in me and I guess they don’t get a lot of tourists coz he was asking me a lot of questions.
He also had two peculiar traits – a fondness of working ladies (which he claims he can get for VND 30,000 but I never verified since I didn’t take him up on his offer) and an equal enthusiasm for photos (he kept wanting me to take photos of him) but he’s a really nice guy. He actually saved me from being pick pocketed – someone on a bike pulled up and discreetly opened by my backpack and he shouted at the dude in Vietnamese before I realized what happened.
Bia hois in Vietnam is places where the locals congregate to drink and shoot the shit. I managed to meet a lot of the locals there – from dodgy people of dubious career paths to real deal old communists complete with Viet Cong tattoos.
I also learned a method of smoking which is like the Tim Tam Slam. Basically you dip the filter of your cigarette into the glass of cold beer and suck up the amber fluid through the other side. I was surprised that it would light at all but it did and the end result was a cigarette that tastes cold and you get a sip of beer with every puff.
I cannot stress the importance of visiting a bia hoi when you’re in Vietnam. It is where you meet the locals and talk to them. Communication barriers abound but after a few glasses you’ll be using a mixture of gestures and basically speak the same language.
The bia hois are usually adorned with the stools and tables common in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and it’s a great place to hang out before and after you’re done with the day. The fresh beer comes in right in the morning so be sure to catch that batch – it’s a refreshing breakfast to start your day!
I also learned how to smoke their tobacco pipes in the local bia hoi. I was sitting with this bunch of people passing around a communal pipe and one of them offered me the pipe. It’s not like smoking a bong at all – the trick is to inhale and sorta blow out the excess burnt tobacco and inhale again.
The tobacco pipes is filled with…you guessed it, fresh beer and it’s guaranteed to make your head spin after a couple of hits if you’re not a heavy smoker. Heh!
If you’ll ask me to name a place where I felt most at home while on vacation in Hanoi, Vietnam – it would be hands down the local bia hoi. No contest.
Banh Gio is one of the most amazing epicurean (here’s that word again) discoveries I’ve found in Hanoi, Vietnam. I’ve always been puzzled by the large group of people huddled around this middle aged woman in the Old Quarter and decided to just pull up a chair one day and do it as the locals do.
Banh Gio is basically glutenous rice with a filling of mung beans and pork wrapped in banana leafs into a pyramid shape.
However, that is not what makes it good. Banh Gio is served piping hot and the glutenous rice is so glutenous I’ll equate it to jelly.
It’s melt in your mouth goodness!
I was sitting there when the woman beside me gestured for me to pour some chilli sauce into my banh gio. This is a totally unbiased review since I was so full I wanted to puke. I’ve had too much to eat but the crowded stall just pulled me in to see what the locals eat.
You can opt for various side cuts (also wrapped inside banana leafs) in your banh gio. The texture and and taste it like nothing else! You can literally scoop the banh gio and slurp it down – that’s how soft the glutenous rice is.
Best enjoyed with…their local iced tea. Bet you thought I was gonna say something else. :p
Bun dau is the cousin of the famous bun cha. It is essentially the same but bun cha has grilled pork as its main meat dish instead of tofu. I was wondering around the streets of the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam when I saw this small bun dau place that is full of locals.
The place piqued my interest, even though I’m not a huge fan of tofu. I reckon I could use some food to wash down all the fresh local draft beer that I had.
The bun dau place is quite a simple setup with a place for frying and cutting tofu and the ubiquitous pieces of meat in flour and seating arrangements inside and outside.
I was overwhelmed by the chunks of rice vermicelli, deep fried tofu, and the veritable forest of herbs and vegetables that came so I started eating it with the dipping sauce (made of fish sauce – as most Vietnamese dishes are).
There was a table of three girls sitting beside me and after watching me for a while, one of them came over and showed me how to mix the dipping sauce:
You’re supposed to put some bird’s eye chilli and squeeze a couple of limes into it for the taste to shine through.
It tastes pretty good but I have to admit, I had a lot of trouble finishing it coz I really dislike tofu.
The place attracts a lot of people from different walks in life – I saw everyone from office workers to stall owners at the Old Quarter pulling up a chair and ordering some bun dau.
The chunks of rice vermicelli have a very interesting texture. It has no taste per se, but the way it rolls around and unravels in your mouth when you dip it is quite an epicurean experience that is worth noting.
The best part is that it only costs VND 20,000 with a bottle of Bia Ha Noi! That works out to slightly over RM 3 – not too shabby for a tofu dish. ;)
How much is that doggie in the window? *woof woof*
The one with the waggly tail?
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie’s for sale!
Eating dog meat is popular amongst certain demographics in Hanoi, Vietnam. The place to head to is the row of shops bordering Red River. It is full of mom-and-pop shops with names like thit cho. Thit cho literally means dog meat in Vietnam.
It looks like a butcher shop and not a restaurant since all the dog chopping action is happening on the ground floor, but fear not, there is actually a place for people to enjoy a nice meal of canine meat upstairs.
I chose a platter of mixed dog cuts to experience the texture and taste of man’s best friend – it’s served with a dipping sauce which tastes like fermented shrimp paste (cincalok) and turns into a vivid shade of purple when my guide mixed it.
My guide is a motorbike driver you’ll find loitering around in the Old Quarter – it’s the best way to get around! I negotiated a return trip for VND 5,000 + 1 Beer Hanoi and I get to choose the thit cho place. Pro tip: You should always have the final choice when dealing with local drivers coz they might have kickbacks from certain outlets. I chose the one that had the most locals upstairs – a rowdy bunch that kept on chanting something before drinking their vodka.
The portly woman who owns the place did not appear to be very friendly (she viewed my camera with considerable suspicion) but after one of her staff passed me a piece of dog meat and I ate it before giving her the thumbs up sign, she warmed up to me considerably and led me upstairs. The price for dog meat should range around VND 20,000 to VND 30,000 per 100 grams.
You take off your shoes and sit on the floor with a piece of newspaper being the communal dining place in lieu of a proper table. It’s customary to drink vodka with dog meat but I didn’t want to get fucking sloshed and then lose my way in a dodgy part of town so I went with the ubiquitous Bia Ha Noi instead.
Most people choose a selection of mixed cuts. This is an interesting dish as it comes with pure cuts from the dog (without further cooking) and a mix of dog sausage (which gives a totally new meaning to the word “hot dog” ).
There is also dog stew available – it tastes pretty good but after a while it got a bit cloying due to the amount of oil they use in cooking.
Deep fried dog! Not too bad, but I prefer pure cuts.
The entire meal (inclusive of beer) only costs VND 180,000 (RM 28) – a fucking bargain if you ask me.
I bet most of you is going to ask me this – what does dog meat taste like?
Well, dog meat tastes like dog. I’ve had dog meat in Korea but the dog meat in Hanoi tastes better since it’s not infused with a multitude of flavors. I particularly liked the pure cuts of dog – some parts like the thigh is nigh impossible to eat due to the huge bones and the tough skin and fat, but some cuts are easy enough to chew though.
Dog meat has a very interesting taste to it. It is very odoriferous so people who don’t like mutton probably should stay away from it. You can literally taste/smell the dog as you chew it.
There’s also a layer of fat between the skin and meat that imparts a very vivid flavor to the dog meat.
I love the taste – it’s like a cross between castrated pork and mutton. The meat is tough and the skin is chewy but it’s an experience unlike any other.
The canine culinary experience is a must try for everyone with an adventurous palate. Mmm…dog meat.
Hanoi does not have a coffee drinking culture, at least not in the Old Quarter. The people congregate and have communion over unsweetened iced tea instead. However, there are cafes around which serves coffee though I would hazard to say that tea vastly trumps coffee over here.
I have walked around the various streets and I’ve never seen the complicated Vietnam drip coffee contraption – except in high end (by Vietnamese standards) cafes. I choose to go where the locals go instead. This is a form of pride, I must admit – I shun all touristy places and eat and drink where the locals go to get a dose of their culture.
I am a very firm believer that when you go somewhere, you should do as they do, not go on some guided tour. Be a traveller, not a tourist and go about it yourself. I am a travel snob when it comes to this. I can never figure out why people come to eat…steak or drink beers which are available at their home. *snob
Anyway, back to Vietnamese coffee, they don’t put the drip contraption at your table coz there are no tables.
You sit on the ubiquitous stools that are available while you enjoy your coffee. It’s served black with sugar over ice but you can also opt for condensed milk. The people there don’t speak much English so I pointed at a guy opposite me and said I wanted that. The coffee here is really good – rich and strong.
It’s a very refreshing drink on a hot day. I paid VND 20,000 (RM 3) for this and I saw the guy opposite me paying VND 10,000. I called them on it and they said it’s a different drink. How can it be a different drink when I specifically pointed and said I wanted the same drink?
Some places put a “foreigner surcharge” so I purposely waited until the guy paid since there are no menus or price lists over here. I guess they felt bad coz when I was about to leave they called me and gave me VND 10,000.
Posted: 7:00 pm Hanoi time
I discovered this delicious morsel of a snack while wondering the alleys of the Old Quarter in Hanoi earlier today. I had 1 hour to kill before the acclaimed Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre so I was just wondering around and stumbled upon this hole-in-the-wall eating establishment.
I just wanted a beer but I saw they sell Nem Cua Be for 8,000 VND (about RM 1.20) and I asked what it was. It turns out to be beef and vegetables in a sort of spring roll. It’s deep fried before serving but that’s not that best thing.
The dipping sauce (the ubiquitous fish sauce in Vietnam) is hot (as in warm) so it made the entire thing tastes really good. They had some meat floss action going in there too.
Best enjoyed with a Bia Ha Noi.
Posted: 12:26 am Hanoi time
Chao ban! I’m in Hanoi right now, staying smack dab in the middle of the Old Quarter. Yes, that is what I see when I walk out of the reception.
Meet Chanh – she’s the receptionist over here, and she’s only 21 (!). Chanh is still in uni and doing this part time. She’s terribly friendly and she’s quite good looking too. Her personality – very bubbly.
Okay let me show you my dong before I go out.
Posted: 11:17 am Hanoi time